How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps)

Posted by: hikermor

How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/07/17 10:44 PM

It has not been a quiet week if you were bothered by the Thomas Fire. Monday evening we learned of a fire burning 20 miles away. By midnight the flames had reached the hill above us and it was time to leave.

We have been in our home for twenty-seven years, and on two previous occasions we have had the car packed up and ready to go. The third time was the charm and away we went. We did have about 45 minutes to load stuff, although I generally keep a fair assortment of essentials in the vehicle at all times (FAK, water, sleeping bag, etc) but we were able to augment considerably. A short drive got us out of harm's way and we spent the night in Ventura harbor, where we got a good view of at least ten miles of flame front, with 11 to 15 obvious hot spots.

not much sleep, and the next day we looked for a place for the night. Local motels were booked, and we checked out the established RC shelter. Unfortunately it was in the direct path of the smoke plume from the fire, and hence a no-go.

My BIL, whom we had contacted earlier, really came through for us and secured (paying for our room with patronage points) in nearby smoke free Camarillo - all of a sudden life was pretty decent again.

Checking back the next day, access to our street was blocked, although fortunately we were only half a block from the barricade, and could access our still standing house. We visited regularly that day and the next, securing a few more goodies. By Wednesday afternoon the barricdes were down and we returned Thursday morning. Cleanup will be necessary.

What worked:

ETS!! I have participated in discussion on this forum since 1906 and it really pays off, thanks to the sensible strategies and techniques espoused here, as well as the productive forum discussions. Thank you all....

Organized gear - I could have gotten into the car and driven away without loading a thing and we would have survived. We did know where critical items were located that made the experience more enjoyable.

A dependable head lamp. Our power went out two hours before the fire arrived and my zebralight was invaluable - good runtime and variable brightness levels. There are other good brands as well.

Helpful relative - lots of support and morale boosting

Keeping the gas tank at least half full

Having (and discussing) a plan. After Sonoma, I thought it just might be our time in the barrel (I was right!)

charged and working cell phones - Despite the conflagration, we had very dependable service althoug the towers should have been in the fire.

spousal team work - we were stressed, but we worked out problems and situations rationally and our relationship is stronger for it. Realize you and your spouse will be stressed. Make preparations and allowances.

Sleep prepared. I have started sleeping with my EDC key ring, which includes a light and small multitool. When the alarm comes and the power is out, a handy flashlight is invaluable

PPE - gloves, face masks, head protection make a huge difference. You need to avoid injury at all costs.

Pets - We evacuated with our elderly cat, who was quite a hassle. Mrs. Hikermor would comfort her when she was dazed and confused. It was obvious that comfort was a two way street. The comforter (usually my wife) got just as much benefit from the experience as did our kitty. I have seen and experienced the same thing in my SAR ops.

What didn't work:

Our local CERT - haven't heard a peep from them. I know they have my info, but they apparently haven't been activated.???

Guns and ammo - just dead weight. I did carry away my S&W Mod 27, more for sentimental value than anything else, but it wasn't even close to being needed

An electrical outage is a profound problem. I had a solar rig, which didn't come into play, but it would have worked to keep the cell phones and small items running - rechargeable batteries rock.

That's the news from here, for now. Comments and questions welcome...

Posted by: Phaedrus

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/07/17 10:53 PM

Wow! I'm glad you emerged unscathed! The fire situation in California is quite scary right now.
Posted by: AKSAR

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 12:21 AM

Glad to hear you and family are OK, and your home survived. The news from California has been scary and tragic of late.
Posted by: Montanero

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 02:15 AM

Good to know you are OK. Preparing does pay.
Posted by: LesSnyder

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 03:58 AM

glad you are ok and thanks for the report... in response to your comment about your solar charging system, and the desire to keep your cell and communications up... two major changes to my tropical storm preparations after the short power outage from Irma...(1) the utility I received from a relative small portable 2kW inverter generator, and (2) the ability to charge multiple NiMH cells with 8 charging slots running off a common power strip when running the generator... my decision to standardize to AA Eneloop cells after the 2004 season was validated, and the positive experience with how well the small inverter generator worked this last season places it high on the "needed" list
Posted by: bacpacjac

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 01:10 PM

So glad you're ok. from Cali is scary right now. Stay safe, my friend!
Posted by: chaosmagnet

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 01:56 PM

Good share. Stay safe.
Posted by: Comanche7

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 05:28 PM


Great sitrep, glad you and yours are doing well and thanks for providing another great validation for fixing the roof when it's not raining!
Posted by: Russ

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 06:50 PM

Thanks, good to hear your evac went well and youíre already back. The truck is in good shape, fuel at 3/4 tank.

Iím now in the early stages of packing the truck. Because I canít take it all, Iím having to make hard decisions on what is critical, nice to have or not necessary (but Iíll miss it). But itís better to make those choices before a fire bearing down makes the decision for you. I should be done by now, but what I really need is a bigger truck.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 08:41 PM

It will be interesting to review decisions made under stress - I am doing that right now. I realize that while I retrieved some items of sentimental value, I left a really important one behind - the Nambu pistol liberated by my father in WWII. Stress will do that to you....
Posted by: hikermor

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 08:47 PM

One comment about "fixing the roof" - the weekend before, I spent time cleaning up dead brush and grass around the premises. I knew that high winds were forecast, and I realized that the adjacent hills had not burned since November, 2008, meaning that we were due for another episode.

So a lot of duff was corralled, but not all. Returning home yesterday, I realized there was a line of dead, dry leaves on the sidewalk next to the house - a perfect fuse to ignite the dwelling. Luckily there were no flaming embers....

Note to self: If you start a job, finish the #$&& thing...
Posted by: Russ

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/08/17 09:28 PM

Yep, steel roof here but we seem to forget that fires start small and we sometimes choose to ignore the leaves from the neighborís tree. I may have a bit of clean-up to do this afternoon.
Posted by: acropolis5

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/09/17 05:01 AM

Hikermor: Glad to hear tha you and your home escaped unscathed. Iím interested to know what you & your wife did take with you? Both loose things, packed in the 45min. grace period you described, as well as prepackaged bags? Did you work from a checklist? If so, will you please share it with us? Real life experiences seems much more reliable than armchair commandosí lists.
Posted by: hikermor

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/09/17 04:47 PM

Gladly. The most important element was that our vehicles were essentially preloaded. We had done this independently, but we both had a sleeping bag, first aid gear, water and snacks permanently stashed in our respective vehicles. Mrs. Hikermor also kept a pair of walking shoes. These days I never wear any other kind. I also had small shovels, a couple of saws, jumper cables, hand tools, maps, spare flashlights, and a fully accessorized Leatherman Wave in my vehicle. We would have been just fine if we had left instantly, with only those items. They weight less than fifty pounds and occupy maybe three cubic feet. My gas tank was slightly more than half full, with 200 miles range, which was more than we needed.

At one point we had a written check list (when our daughter was very young) but that has lapsed. We had a pretty good idea of priorities - people, pets, papers (insurance et al), pictures (typically unique family stuff). Add to that personal laptop computers and accessories and that was our unwritten check list.

Susan had corralled the significant papers before hand in a couple of file boxes. She got those in her car, along with our elderly cat in her cage (also cat food). I threw in some extra food, snack bars and canned food (Dinty Moore beef stew = MRE), my preloaded money belt with $20 bills, more water, my CERT bag which had a hard hat, more tools and other 24 hour necessities. I also added my solar panels and accessories (prepacked in an ammo can) plus more flashlights and my Zebralight headlamp usually used for bedtime reading. Since our power was out, I had been using it to get around the house, looking for stuff, along with the small AAA light on my EDC key ring. I also threw in my stock of rechargeable batteries, and two Goal Zero mini lanterns. Also a duffel bag of clothing. At the last minute, I threw in my S&W Mod 27 with accessories (also prepackaged in an ammo can) more for sentimental reasons than any fear of coming hostilities (but then you never quite know). A good many of my knives, some also more sentimental than anything else, made the cut.

With an increasingly ominous red glow upwind, we left. With the grid down and traffic lights not working, the five miles we drove was the most hazardous undertaking of the evening. I was very glad I am in the habit of baking into my usual parking space, facing the street - not a good time to be backing into traffic.

After the first night spent snoozing in our cars in the harbor, we were able to return to the house, whereupon we retrieved more heirloom items, mostly family photos, and other odds and ends, but that was just gravy.

I am glad our vehicles were preloaded. We could have walked out the door, driven away, and been just fine. We could have survived if we had only retrieved the backpacks from the cars, and walked away with those - just not as much fun.

We should have loaded more heirloom items the first time around. Other than that, I think we did pretty well - we were clearly stressed and not functioning at our best which is why preloading and modular packaging are important. Susan and I worked well together, and overall, this experience strengthens our relationship - Yea!!!
Posted by: Russ

Re: How to Flee the Fire (in ten easy steps) - 12/11/17 04:20 PM

Looks like we dodged another bullet. The only fire nearby is 80% contained and hasnít grown in acreage since it was 0% contained. There was an initial report of a fire east of here but it didnít make the Cal Fire website. Apparently the local FD had a handle on it very early and killed it before it could go anywhere. With the high fire danger and winds the FD had all hands on deck. I donít even want to think about the overtime that will be paid out, but totally worth it.